Ninco TrackMap v.05 Review
Ninco TrackMap comes in a DVD style case with an attractive cover showing various types of Ninco track – off-road, snow & asphalt. Highlights on the cover include Ninco Digital tracks, 100 designed circuits, and 2 to 8 lanes, as well as the aforementioned asphalt, snow and off-road.
Inside are the CD and a glossy stapled 15 page manual. Two pages are devoted to each of seven languages explaining the basic functions of the software.
The CD does not autostart. There are four files on the disc – a setup executable, a setup list file, a program cabinet file and an instruction PDF file. Total byte size is 2.13 MB. A double click of the setup.exe is all that is needed to get things going. The installation program is entirely in Spanish; however, ‘Continuar’, ‘Cancelar’ and ‘OK’ are pretty self explanatory. The install program puts one icon in the Start/Ninco menu item. If you wish to uninstall the software just insert the CD, double click on setup.exe and then select Cancel from the first requestor. Then choose…. and the software will be uninstalled.
Upon initial launch of the program a requestor will open up to allow you to type in your registration code. The 26 character alphanumeric code is printed on the cover of the manual. The program opens in a non-resizable window at maximum desktop resolution. You can shrink the window or use ALT-TAB to get to other programs. There are seven menu items located across the top of the main screen a la menu bar. They are, from left to right, Circuit, Sections, Content, Inventory, Move, Icons, and Preferences. See figure 1.
Each item can be opened or closed independently. As well each opened ‘box’ can be moved around the work area and placed where convenient - Sticky Menus. However, once a moved box is closed it will re-open in its default position under the menu bar. There are also three small icons in the top-right corner. See figure 2. They are “i” – about, “W” = web site link, and “@” – email link.
These are handy if you need to quickly go to the web site or send an email. However, on my machine when I clicked on the web site link, my Mozilla Firefox window did not pop to front once the web site was loaded. This may be an issue with my browser.
The Menu Items
Circuit opens the Circuit Data box which allows you to save, load, import and export track data files, and gives some information about the curcuit currently loaded. See figure 3. It also allows you to print your designs. There is also an adjustment to increase or decrease lanes in discrete steps of 2, 4, 6 or 8. Increasing a 2-lane track to four lanes does a fairly decent job, highlighting potential problem pieces.
Looseness allows for a 0 – 5 mm allowance to how tight the track sections fit together. I’m not sure how much of an effect this might have on a track that one would want to assemble. I loaded up the GT layout and entered values to see what visual effect it would have. There is a small gap in this layout that grew larger as the looseness was increased.
The Measurements button automatically calculates the area of the layout, width and length, to see if it will fit into your space, whether it is on the rug or on a table. Lane lengths are also displayed here so you can see if there would be any unfair advantage for any particular lane. Keeping an eye on the lane lengths while adding or replacing track sections helps to keep lane lengths even, as these values are auto-updated.
The Compensate lanes button attempts to even out lane lengths by inserting crossover tracks. This function seems to work once you have inserted at least one crossover track section. The software then does it's best to even out the lane lengths by changing one full straight section into a crossover.
The Close item displays the distance from the beginning of the first piece of track laid down to the end of the last piece of track. Another term might be “gap”, and this gives you an idea of how close the last piece will fit to the first piece. As you change the “Looseness” of the design the “Close” value changes - sometimes not in the direction that you think it should. Suffice to say that the manual states that this value does not have to be zero.
Clicking on the Circuitry button opens up a box that allows you to cycle through the circuits available to load, import or export. There is a small preview window that shows the general shape of the circuit. This is also where the 100 preloaded circuits reside. They include such standard Ninco circuits such as the Double, Figure 8 and GT, with each of these circuits combined with some of the extra sets available. For instance “Double + Snow Curve”, “Figure 8 + Kit 4” and others. The last 20 layouts are of real world circuits, including a 6 lane Cataluña circuit – see figure 4.
The export function exports a .cir file, which is the default Ninco TrackMap file format. I do not know, at this time, if any other track design software can import these files.
Save will save your current design. However, this function has a few quirks. If you open an existing track design, edit it by adding some sections, then try and save, the save requestor does not allow you to "Save as..." so you end up saving over your original design. I assume that the Sub-tracks functions might be a way around this, but I have yet to tackle that problem. Certainly a standard file requestor or even a "Save as..." function would be welcome.
Printing can be to printer or bitmap. Prints to a printer produce nicely formatted documents, with a title, including name, measurements, lane lengths, the Ninco logo, the track, a list of the track pieces required, TrackMap version information and the date. Bitmap prints output a standard BMP format file with only the track shown.
Sections opens up a box showing icons of the major Ninco track sections. See figure 5.
Starting from the top of the box, Sub-tracks opens up another small box which allows one to save sections of track to be loaded as sub-sections into new or other tracks. So, if one designs a particularly challenging section of track, it can be saved and then manipulated as a single piece of track. The track selection icons are pretty self explanatory. The small up and down arrows at the bottom of some sections cycles through similar track pieces with different finishes – asphalt, snow, off-road. There are two special track sections that are slightly different. The first one is the leftmost icon in the second from the top row – this is the digital section selection. It cycles between the digital power section, the right lane change and the left lane change sections. The other piece is the standard power section with your choices being the standard power section or the double power section.
Right-clicking on certain sections changes the direction. This is mainly used for curve pieces and the squeeze track section. It also changes the direction of the power section.
The bottom row of icons is used in editing your layout. Clicking on the leftmost icon cycles between ‘add’ and section of track and ‘replace’ a section of track. Clicking on the middle icon will delete the selected piece of track. The rightmost icon changes the direction of build – where the next piece will be placed.
Remove Sections does just that, whether you have selected one piece or multiple pieces. The default result is to join the remaining pieces of track. Where this is not possible the track is ‘broken’ at the power section.
Undo will undo any erroneous or undesired action. There are 10 levels of undo.
Borders/Fences/Walls opens up a box that allows one to set the defaults for adding borders, fences and walls. It allows one to do this to any selected piece or pieces or to set defaults to apply to any new piece inserted. One can automatically add any combination of fences, walls or borders to the outside or inside or both sides of the track.
Content displays a list of the Ninco item numbers and quantities of all the pieces of track necessary to build the currently open track layout.
Inventory allows one to set up their current track inventory so as to monitor the different pieces of track that they might need if one wants to build a design. A single left-click on the number will increase the inventory by one, right-click to decrease by one. Have lots of Ninco track on hand? Hold down the shift key to increase or decrease by 10 or hold down the CTRL key to do so by 100!!
Move allows one to move, rotate and zoom the track building area. These controls are intuitive and well laid out.
Icons allows one to add icons, text and shapes. Icons such as Ninco controllers, cars, signs and logos are available. See figure 6. Text is pretty standard. Shapes are limited to ovals/circles and rectangles/squares in any colour with solid or dashed borders, filled or not filled and some simple fill patterns available such as vertical lines, horizontal lines, grid and 90° (normal) or offset at 45° - chain-link fence and hashes (left or right).
Preferences allows one to set up the display preferences. See figure 7.
One can assign or change the default settings for the track section colours. The colour display can be toggled on and off using the See button. The thickness of the colour is changed using the Contour thickness field. It seems that this filed is limited to a range of 1 to 5. The “Background Colour” changes the colour of the track plan background. Grille is Ninco’s term for grid. Show toggles it on and off. The spacing can be changed by entering a different value into the filed. This value is set at metric (cm) and the default is 25 cm, which is about 9 7/8”. You can change the grid colour by clicking on the small colour box. A colour palette window opens up so that you can select whichever colour you want.
A series of small checkboxes at the bottom of the box allows one to toggle whether or not shapes, icons and text items are shown. Main – not sure what this does. See (X, Y) toggles an X,Y coordinate display on and off. The Load background image button does just that, to give you a result as seen in figure 8.
A good design package for Ninco track owners. Intuitive tools enabled me to create a relatively simple track in no time. Automatic lane increase is a neat function – I just wish I had enough track to really give it a good workout. Included tracks save time when you wish to alter a set track, like the GT, with extra track that you have purchased. Great value for this piece of software.
The interface is not Windows standard, meaning that the menus are not what one would expect. I know I said, above, that the software is intuitive - it is, but some things need to be Windows standard. Personally, this does not bug me too much, except for one thing – see Missing in Action. English language support is spotty. Some context items are English, others are not, the install program is in Spanish, English terminology could be better – “Grille” is used where “Grid” would have been more appropriate – they use “Grid” in the manual but not the interface.
Missing in Action
The “Circuitry” requester is non-standard and requires one to click on the small up or down arrows depending on which way in the list one wishes to navigate. When you start the program, if you wish to load one of the real world circuits you have to click on the down button 71 times! And that is if you have not saved any of your own track designs. This should be replaced with a standard Windows OS file requester, or, at least, include a scroll bar, to allow for faster loads. This would also clear up the problem with saving edited files.
Lane colour identification. There is no option to colourize lanes. Familiarization with the Ninco power section is necessary to identify which lane is which. This may be a problem when dealing with large layouts. There is no save option when exiting the program. If you run the program, open a file, make some changes and then exit the program, it does not ask if you wish to save the changes. This is something any good program should have.
Overall, I give Ninco TrackMap v05 8.5 laps out of 10, largely due to the price of the software.
Minimum System Requirements:
System Used: ASUS/AMD XP2500 1.8 GHz, Windows 2000 SP4, 512MB RAM, 64 MB graphics RAM